Final vote nears on Proposition 1 storage standards


Issue Date: October 26, 2016
By Christine Souza

Inside a Sacramento conference room, discussions by the California Water Commission are shaping the application and approval process for water storage projects envisioned by California voters who approved a water bond two years ago.

The Proposition 1 water bond included $2.7 billion dedicated toward the public benefits of water storage projects, and gave the commission the responsibility for determining which projects will be eligible for that funding. At its meeting in Sacramento last week, the commission reviewed public comments and heard from interested parties regarding draft regulations for the bond's Water Storage Investment Program.

The final WSIP regulations will guide the process for rating, comparing and ultimately funding new storage projects, potentially including the proposed Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley and Temperance Flat Reservoir on the upper San Joaquin River.

The draft regulations were released in September. The water bond requires the commission—in consultation with the state Department of Water Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and State Water Resources Control Board—to develop regulations and guidelines to quantify and manage public benefits of storage projects by Dec. 15.

To meet the upcoming deadline, the commission discussed recommended changes to the application process for water storage proposals. Specific issues included in the discussion included environmental mitigation and compliance obligations, management of public benefits, how the commission will score and select projects, and public participation in the ongoing process.

After final rules are released in December, proponents of specific projects may begin submitting applications in 2017. The commission will select projects for funding in 2018.

David Gutierrez, a DWR staff member working with the commission on the WSIP regulations, said one of the requirements now is to quantify the public benefits of proposed projects.

"That is not a simple task," he said. "We have to figure out metrics that would measure those public benefits."

Gutierrez noted the commission had received 41 letters and 160 comments in the latest comment period on its draft regulations.

"We're trying to develop a system so that we can compare projects as fairly as we possibly can," he said.

California Farm Bureau Federation environmental policy analyst Justin Fredrickson said "big issues" remain in play, including the general concern that the application process is too long, complicated and expensive.

"Money can go out as soon as next year, so people working on specific projects want to get their applications in sooner rather than later. They want to get their projects on the ground and public benefits realized," Fredrickson said.

The commission asked staff to streamline the application process, in order to help project applicants. Commissioner David Orth suggested that staff "make it as efficient as possible, and applicable to large and small-scale projects, so that it meets the criteria of consistency and the objectives we have" under provisions of Proposition 1.

The commission also asked for revisions to certain project requirements related to climate-change analysis and environmental compliance, before it approves final draft regulations in November.

Fredrickson said CFBF and other organizations, including the Association of California Water Agencies and the Sites Reservoir Joint Powers Authority, stressed with the commission the need for consistency between its regulations and specific language in the water bond related to its funding of public benefits of net environmental improvements over existing conditions.

Under its schedule, the commission will release revised draft regulations on Nov. 7. According to its timeline, the commission will then provide final direction on Nov. 15, followed by another public-comment period that ends Dec. 9.

The regulations are scheduled for formal adoption on Dec. 14.

For more information, see the commission website at cwc.ca.gov, and look for the Water Storage Investment Program link.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.